Tufton: Gov’t labs have sufficient capacity to test for monkeypox

MINISTER of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton says government labs have sufficient capacity, at this point, to test for monkeypox, as cases continue to rise steadily across more than 70 countries.

He told the Jamaica Observer only government labs are conducting testing, based on recommendations from health practitioners.

In its most recent update, the World Health Organization (WHO) said since January to July 22, it has received reports of 16,016 confirmed cases of monkeypox and five deaths. In the week leading up to July 22, 37 countries reported an increase in the weekly number of cases.

The top 10 countries with the highest cumulative number of cases up to July 22 are Spain, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Portugal, and Italy, which account for 89 per cent of the cases reported globally, the WHO said.

Since May, outbreaks of the viral illness have been found in areas where it has not typically been found before, such as Europe, the Americas, the Western Pacific, eastern Mediterranean countries, and parts of Africa where the virus is not endemic. The WHO advised that more cases than usual have been reported in parts of Africa that have previously reported cases, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic. “The current outbreak affecting many countries at once is not typical of previous outbreaks,” the international public health agency pointed out.

Although there is a vaccine available for monkeypox — one used to eradicate smallpox — the WHO has not recommended mass vaccination against the illness, noting that it is not as contagious as some other infections because it requires close contact with someone who has monkeypox.

The WHO has also advised that scientists do not yet know whether persons who have, or have had COVID-19 are more vulnerable to contracting monkeypox. Jamaica has so far recorded two imported cases of the disease.

In the meantime, National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster Kerr advised on Tuesday that there could be an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the island due to the presence of the highly transmissible Omicron BA.4 and BA5 sub-variants here. These are now the two most dominant variants globally, according to the WHO.

The health ministry said it has been advised of the presence of the variants by The University of the West Indies, which identified the variants from its latest gene sequencing out of 87 samples from May 13 to July 11.

“All were identified as the Omicron variant. Of the 87 samples with sequencing, eight were BA.5 and five were BA.4 sub-variants,” the ministry said in a release.

The ministry has again stressed that people should continue to practise infection control measures, including wearing of masks, hand washing, physical distancing. It has also recommended that individuals 12 years and older to get vaccinated, and that people already vaccinated take booster doses as their level of protection from COVID-19 vaccines may have weakened over time.

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